3/9/2008--In the opening scenes of the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry looks out on the lush insides of a tent seemingly small from the outside, and says, “I love magic.” Harry says this even though he has seen the dark side of magic and has been threatened by it. At its best, though, magic is just so wonderful that Harry is overcome.
I had a similar reaction reading Joel Belz’ opinion piece—“End of an Illusion”-- in the March 1 issue of World Magazine. Belz is well-known conservative Christian leader and is the founder of the magazine. His point was the end of the illusion that evangelical Christians have a lot of political power: “The problem with playing power politics is that you always run the risk of discovering--in public—that you really have no power.” Concerning our pretentions, Belz adds, “God laugh[s]”.
This is why I love Christians. Who on the secular left or right would say, “we have been presumptuous”? And if anyone were to say that, would that person be including himself, as Belz is? I know I don’t write that way. I don't think that way.
Anyone who claims that the religious right is powerless simply doesn't understand power in our political system. They haven't been able to abolish abortion, but they've hemmed it in all around. The same is true for gay marriage.
They have an effective voting block in the Deep South and in some of the Prairie states. In order to get into office in those states, you have to survive a primary in which they wield enormous amounts of power to set the agenda. All that is needed to grind the US Senate to a halt is to control 31 votes - barely 15 states plus one. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas gives them 20 of those votes. It isn't too hard to pick up another ten when absolutely necessary. Start adding up the US Representatives in those states, and you have a sizable plurality.
Beyond that, the Religious Right has been very effective at getting their preferred judges placed strategically in the courts of appeals.
Add that to the millions upon millions of dollars heaped onto faux "education" systems (Liberty University, for example) and legal groups dedicated to bringing nothing but cases relating to the First Amendment before friendly courts, and you see a very different picture.
Power, as I tell my classes, is the ability to influence behavior. It is best utilized when no one knows it is being utilized.